Hidden away on trading estates, under railway arches, alongside a museum and even on a city farm, blacksmiths are making distinctive one-off pieces for London homes, from security grilles, railings, beds, screens, gates and grates, to small hinges and brackets.
In Brentford, near the London Museum of Water & Steam, Neil Brown has the capital’s oldest forge, dating to about 1840. His brand Hot Metal Works makes firedogs, railings, candelabra, shelf brackets and more.
Brown hammers away on an anvil on a huge tree trunk. Above his head, his cross-shaped logo shows off metals, techniques and finishes, from steel, copper and brass to welds, bolts and rivets, in shiny silver to rusting, dull red-brown.
Just completed are large garden gates at £4,000 but in stock are small outdoor pieces from £14, including charming leaf-adorned obelisks for climbing plants at £60.
Moving east, across the river opposite Canary Wharf, Kevin Boys Blacksmiths, the forge of the renowned artist blacksmith, is set a little incongruously in open-access Surrey Docks Farm. Inside a basic brick building with the smithy fire at its heart is a vast repository of well-ordered tools and machinery — about 200 hammers alone — and a cluster of old anvils, again on tree trunks.
“Wood is good for iron bashing,” says Boys, whose arresting black iron figures in prominent London locations — including the memorial in Tower Bridge Road to Bermondsey-born VC-winning First World War sailor Albert McKenzie — typically have open skeletal frames with details such as a helmet or weapon. But Boys still loves functional work. He’ll make you a handsome gate from about £500, or a candelabra for £90.
“The key element of blacksmithing is one-off bespoke items,” says established creative hot metalworker Ian Marshall of Steel Yourself in Eltham. He loves the variety of his work, from making a simple stand for a collector’s item for £20, to an ambitious garden bridge for £10,000. “My clients appreciate metalwork and are looking for something unique.” Balconies are popular, but he does small repairs “because it makes people happy”.
On an industrial trading estate in Streatham, south London, barbecues from £900 and bird tables, from £90, are stock-in-trade for Conan Sturdy, who has a skilled team on standby for larger commissions. Sturdy powers his forge by “green” energy from Ecotricity, plus solar panels.
“If possible we use natural raw finishes, such as lightly polished raw steel with wax or linseed oil.” His furniture combines steel legs and frames, recycled planks and boards, with added willow and bamboo planted around his workshop.
A TRIO OF BLACKSMITHS
Under a railway arch in Peckham, three young ironworkers at the Blenheim Forge practise the intricate art of making Japanese knives, adding handles from local wood. Keen cooks pay from £100 for a knife and there’s a waiting list for the star blade, at £450.
A “social enterprise” in Tottenham for about 180 craftworkers, with workshops, booths, benches and access to large machinery, was converted a couple of years ago from an old industrial building by five founders. Blacksmith Stuart Watson came from Hackney. Just moved in is award-winning Nick Moran, making shelf brackets, beds, screens and gates. Joe Buckingham is The Gentleman Blacksmith, with designs for balustrades and handrails, and special skills for zinc worktops.